Bear Hunting Anyone?

Let me tell you a little story about close friends Frankie and Johnny.

They had a lot in common. They enjoyed the same kind of music, they both admired John Wayne and they both loved hunting.

Every year since they were kids, their bear-hunting excursions were the highlight of the year. Where did they hunt? In the Bearskill Mountains of upstate New York, of course.

So about 10 years ago, while Frankie and Johnny were sleeping in their tent, a huge black bear wandered into their camp.

Frankie awoke first when he heard the bear rummaging through some of their equipment. Frankie nudged his friend's sleeping bag. Johnny opened his eyes and looked at Frankie, who had his index finger in front of quivering lips, signaling Johnny to keep quiet.

Then Johnny caught a glimpse of the bear's shadow and almost jumped out of his sleeping bag. In all the years they had been hunting bears without actually ever killing one, this was the closest they had ever been to a wild bear. And their rifles were outside the tent.

Well, the bear must have heard Johnny move. Because, suddenly, without warning, the bear's massive claw ripped through the tent material as if it were made of newspaper.

The claw tore into Johnny's arm, leaving a gash. Frankie and Johnny were frozen in fear. Fortunately, the bear must have lost interest because he simply trotted off into the woods and disappeared.

Frankie brought his injured friend to the nearest hospital. Johnny got 33 stitches and some antibiotics. The next day the two friends made a pledge: No matter how long it takes, they were going to find that bear and kill it.

In their minds, the bear represented Moby Dick and they were two Captain Ahabs on a mission.

So, when hunting season came around the next year, the two geared up to find their nemesis. But for the next nine years, they didn't find a single bear, let alone the one that scared them half to death.

Then came their final hunting trip. They were walking along a trail in the wood when they were stopped in their tracks by the roar of a bear.

Frankie and Johnny turned around and, lo and behold, it was their bear. Frankie fired a shot but missed.

Now, the bear was really angry and started to charge the men, who instinctively turned to run. They didn't take more than 10 steps before they tumbled down a steep embankment. During the fall, they both lost their guns.

Frankie and Johnny got up and started to run. They could hear the bear in the distance. Suddenly, Frankie stopped running and sat down on a dead tree stump.

"Frankie, are you crazy?" Johnny shouted. "Let's go, man!"

But Frankie seemed relatively calm as he removed his boots and began to lace up a pair of sneakers.

"Frankie! C'mon! We don't have time."

"Johnny, I don't think you understand the nature of the situation. I just realized, I don't have to outrun the bear. I just have to outrun you."

I can't seem to shake the feeling that we are living in a world like this -- a society in which the spirit of "I got mine and to hell with you if you don't got yours" seems to trump everything else.

Frances Fox Piven, co-author of Regulating the Poor and a professor at the Graduate Center of City University New York, puts it this way: "Tax cuts were supposed to spur recovery, but jobs are not recovering, the unemployment rate remains high, and more and more people appear to be dropping out of the labor market.

"Meanwhile, the programs created over the course of the 20th century to shield people from labor market instabilities are being whittled away," he told the Institute for Public Accuracy last week.

The Republican majority in Congress, Piven said, has stalled on the extension of long-term unemployment insurance while the president proposes to make welfare harder to get, and harder to keep.

Piven says that housing subsidies and even earned income tax credits are being slashed.

"This is not a compassionate conservative regime; it is a hard right regime," he said.

Bear-hunting anyone?

Sean Gonsalves' column appears weekly in the Cape Cod Times.

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